Since the war in Ukraine began, Habitat for Humanity New Zealand has supported our wider organisation internationally with their immediate and long-term housing response for civilians and refugees. Habitat Poland and neighbouring country offices have called on existing partnerships and resources in-country to ensure that both refugees and citizens returning to their homes in Ukraine have safe and warm shelter.
The liberation of eastern Kharkiv Oblast by Ukrainian armed forces in September 2022 allowed tens of thousands of displaced individuals to return to their homes in towns and villages caught on the frontline or occupied following the Russian invasion in February 2022. Olga, a 71-year-old pensioner from Korobochkyne Village, was among the early returnees, making her way home in October 2022. For Olga, returning home was a joyful moment, but it was by no means the end of a difficult path that started with the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Seven months of nearly daily shelling damaged hundreds of homes, businesses, and civic buildings in the village in Chuhuivskii District, and forced more than 90 percent of the village’s pre-war population of 3,500 to flee their homes. After spending days at a time hiding in her cellar, Olga, managed to evacuate with her adult children and son-in-law in March 2022 during a pause in shelling. They eventually made their way to Poltava Oblast, where they lived for two months in a school gymnasium. “I was lucky to have a bed to sleep on in the gymnasium,” she recalls. “Many people slept on mattresses on the floor.” Olga would move twice more—first to Vinnytsia Oblast in western Ukraine, then back to Poltava—before she could finally return home following the Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Upon her arrival in Korobochkyne, Olga found that shelling had broken two windows in her home and damaged her front door. With her small pension of approximately 65 USD per month, she didn’t see any way she could afford the repairs. The possibility of making repairs become even more remote when she endured a major operation on her leg, which has meant she spends a large part of her pension on medication to deal with the after-effects of the surgery.
In June, Olga met a social worker from Caritas-Spes Ukraine working in her neighborhood, who told her about home repair project being implemented in Korobochkyne with the financial support of Habitat for Humanity International, and Olga registered for assistance. In September, contractors employed by Caritas-Spes Ukraine completed repairs to her home, replacing her broken windows with energy-efficient double-chamber windows and installing a new front door. The repairs will ensure Olga stays warm during the winter, when temperatures can fall as low as -20 degrees Celsius in Kharkiv Oblast. For Olga, that’s one less concern as she faces the uncertainty of the continuing war and the possibility that she may need another operation in the future.
“If [CSU] didn’t fix my door and the windows, I wouldn’t have been able to fix it,” she says. “The honest truth is I wouldn’t have been able to do it. I’m so thankful, I don’t know how tell you.”
*Olga is not pictured in the main article image.